I know it’s become fashionable to knock the big box stores—but this week, Amazon proved why they’ve become such an easy target.
If you’ve spent the week knee-deep in tangled Christmas lights or up to your eyeballs in cookie dough (it is the season after all), you might not have heard that Amazon pulled one of the all-time grinchiest marketing moves yet. They offered their customers payment in return for doing reconnaissance on book prices at small local independent bookstores. For the princely sum of $5, they wanted people to enter local stores, take up booksellers’ precious time, scan or note the prices of various titles, then report back to the mothership. Not content to be the biggest bookseller in the world, this was presumably part of a master plan to eventually be the “only” bookseller in the world.
As if sane (book) people would let that happen.
I suppose there were some who bought into this scheme—the kind who could be bought off cheaply. The kind who would sell out their friends, people who would kick a puppy or send their post best-before dated food to a food bank. People who care little for anyone but themselves and fail miserably in seeing the big picture. People beneath contempt who aren’t worthy of the time it would take to discuss them here. Those sort.
Amazon has pulled some boners in the past. Among other things, they have sorely mistreated independently publishing authors and on a weekend a summer or so ago, all books on GLBT topics magically disappeared from view. Supposedly a technical glitch, but morally suspect. But this…this was the big one.
Sure, everyone would like to save a few dollars, particularly at this time of year. But right now, thanks to Amazon, other big box stores and ebooks, independent bookstores are an endangered species. Particularly “niche” bookstores, like those specializing in women’s writing or GLBT books. The kind that support readings, celebrate local authors and distribute the books of small independent publishers (the kind that publish my writing, so yes, admittedly, this is personal). Books that will never see bestseller listings on Amazon, by small and determined publishers who keep literary writing alive.
I have a history of loving small independent bookstores. As a teenager, I remember taking a three-hour bus right to visit the first women’s bookstore in Ottawa. I spent hours circling the tiny shop, reading the covers, seeing the names of all the writers I’d heard about, but hadn’t been able to access before—and didn’t leave before I had dropped a healthy sum of babysitting money to take a bag of treasures home. Away at school, the Toronto Women’s Bookstore and the so amazing but now gone This Ain’t the Rosedale Library were my second homes. In my early 20s, I was teary-eyed with pride when I entered Old Wives Tales in San Francisco—owned by the wonderful Carol Seajay, who, through her early support of women’s presses and booksellers, pretty much gave birth to the idea of a women’s bookstore. Carol had taped to the wall behind the counter, several of the book columns I was then writing for a national GLBT paper—and the feeling that I was a part of this gutsy guerilla literary movement was overwhelming.
Today, my favorite local bookseller is the friendly, funny and oh-so-knowledgeable David Rimmer, who owns the cozy After Stonewall Books in Ottawa. Specializing in GLBT books, if David doesn’t have what you want, he’ll do his best to get it. His store has stayed in business despite the invasion of our own Canadian big box chain, construction that literally put a crater in front of his store for months and a long and bitter transit strike that all but shut down the downtown a few years ago just before Christmas. He, like most independent booksellers, is a survivor.
As for Amazon—their stunt didn’t work. Good people, real readers, those who recognize that the survival of independent bookstores equals the survival of independent ideas, said no to their nasty little promotion, and no doubt think the less of them for it. I can only hope that Amazon.com was purged for the bookmarks of a lot of web browsers this week.
If you’re shopping for a Christmas present, there really is a book out there for everyone. If you’re not, treat yourself a nice fat hardcover or something new and quirky from a small press to get you through the winter. And even if you don’t want to buy a book or can’t—drop by your local booksellers, tell them you appreciate them and that they’re doing a fine job, playing a brave role in keeping ideas and storytelling and well, basically, literary culture and the roots of civilization alive and well.
And it wouldn’t hurt too, to mention that Amazon sucks. They’ll like that.